Carlo Goldoni’s 18th-century commedia dell’arte gets an all-female reboot in this hilarious spectacle from dynamo director Antú Romero Nunes. Entertainment is front and centre in this adaptation: in the costumes, the cast, the lighting, the music, even in the surtitles. Stephanie Reinsperger is superb as the eponymous, gender-unspecified Servant, providing the metatheatre and most of the belly laughs. In a curly blonde wig and with a lamb-on-wheels companion, this fairytale character can’t help but provoke laughter, even when complaining about their constant hunger, poverty, loneliness and beatings. The Servant gets an extra layer of humour for the Berlin audience – as an outsider of undefined German-speaking origin, they are the victim of German-phobic insults and frequently mistranslate sayings into English.
The other four cast members are equally entertaining, with impressive comic timing, bad teeth, beer bellies, ugly beards and ropey southern-American accents. Cynthia Micas is a perfect caricature of a cotton plantation owner; Judith Engel and Lili Epply are brilliant as boneheaded farm helpers and Contanze Becker is priceless in her double role as the lovers: cross-dressing Jolene March and cowboy Brody Brandson. But apart from a few cheeky jabs at manliness, the fact that the cast is all-female is not the central focus of the piece. Instead, it touches on the themes of belonging and homeland, with a much darker (but still funny) ending than the original.
Der Diener Zweier Herren (The Servant of Two Masters), Berliner Ensemble, January 8, 9, 29, 30, In English with German surtitles